Stanford cultural issues writer Jeff Chang speaks to upper school students and faculty


Tiffany Wong

Executive Director of Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts Jeff Chang speaks about his cultural background as a native of Honolulu. He cited reggae, Hawaiian folk and Hawaiian guitar music as three main music styles that drew him to hip-hop.

by Tiffany Wong, Aquila News Editor

Executive Director of Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts Jeff Chang spoke to upper school students and faculty during a long lunch Q&A session in Nichols Auditorium today.

Chang received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in Asian American Studies from UCLA. He was named a USA Ford Fellow in Literature in 2008 by philanthropic arts organization United States Artists and one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by American magazine Utne Reader in 2009.

The event was organized by the upper school’s Diversity Committee faculty members Pilar Aguero-Esparza, Mark Janda, Joshua Martinez and Lola Muldrew. Janda began the session by introducing Chang, who described his journey towards finding his passion for writing. He also gave short summaries of his four titles “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation” (2005), “Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post Civil Rights America“ (2014), “Who We Be: The Colorization of America“ (2014) and “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation” (2016).

“I took a long time to get to [being a writer] and if any of you want to ask how I got there, I could take the next hour talking to you about that. You don’t have to have decided what you need to do for the rest of your life by the time you enter college—not even after that,” he said. “I think in a very roundabout route I got to this place where I’ve been a writer, and I’ve been writing a lot about arts and culture—about cultural movements and about the question of race and identity for the last 25 years or so.”

Chang then opened the floor to questions from the audience. Askers used a microphone to relay their questions to Chang, who answered from the stage. Topics of discussion included the issues of ethnic diversity, combating extremism with peaceful protest, public movements, racial privilege, free speech and education equality.

“Our culture needs to be able to represent the diversity of the society that we now live in. At this particular point in history, we’re at a point now where diversity is the norm. It’s what we’re all supposed to be about,” he said. “Yet, if you look at the people who are making decisions about what the culture should be, the people making decisions on Hollywood, the people making decisions on Broadway, in the museums and TV and all other kinds of places—it’s still very much what it looked like all the way back to the early 1900s.”

At the end the Q&A session, the Diversity Committee invited audience members with more questions to stay behind and speak to Chang at the stage. Prior to the session, Chang also participated in a discussion of his title “We Gon’ Be Alright” with 39 reading group student members and the faculty members of the Diversity Committee for ReCreate Reading.

For those interested in reading Chang’s material, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” “Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post Civil Rights America,” “Who We Be: The Colorization of America” and “We Gon’ Be Alright” are all available at the upper school library.